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Japan and South Korea Move Closer on Security and Chips at Rare Summit in Seoul

SEOUL, May 7 (Bloomberg): The leaders of South Korea and Japan struck a chord of unity at a rare summit where the US allies agreed to cooperate on North Korea and implement a deal meant to heal a rift stemming from their troubled histories.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told Fumio Kishida that cooperation with the US was important to tackle security challenges posed by the likes of Pyongyang. The Japanese premier expressed sadness for the pain caused by his country’s 1910-1945 colonial rule over the peninsula and said he sees talks with Seoul progressing in a dynamic manner.

“It is significant that shuttle diplomacy between the leaders of Korea and Japan is now in full swing,” Yoon said Sunday after the first formal summit in Seoul between leaders of the two countries in about a dozen years. Regular visits had been halted due to political acrimony that grew worse in recent years over a dispute on paying compensation to Koreans forced to work at Japanese mines and factories during colonial rule.

“I myself feel pain in my heart that many people suffered pain and sadness in the very tough environment,” Kishida said at a joint news conference with Yoon in comments that will be closely scrutinized by the South Korean public. Polls show many in the country are against a deal Yoon unveiled in March to pay compensation and have been looking for a greater show of contrition from Tokyo.

Kishida added “it’s my responsibility as prime minister of Japan to cooperate with President Yoon and South Korea for the future, continuing our predecessors’ efforts to overcome difficult periods.”

The friction caused headaches for the US, which needed the cooperation of the two Asian powerhouses to advance Washington’s global economic agenda and to bolster security against the likes of North Korea and China.

The Biden administration has also been seeking help from its partners to impose sweeping curbs on the sale of advanced chips equipment to China in a policy aimed at preventing the country’s progression in a range of cutting-edge technologies.

Yoon and Kishida agreed to cooperate on chips, without elaborating on what the partnership would entail.

The South Korean leader has been a supporter of Washington’s Asia strategy, including President Joe Biden’s initiative to restructure global supply chains to reduce dependence on China. Japan in March said it will expand restrictions on exports of 23 types of leading-edge chipmaking technology, even as its trade officials repeatedly said it was not targeted at China.

Japan and South Korea are treading a delicate balance between China, their biggest trading partner, and the US, their main security ally. Their position has become even more difficult as Washington and Beijing squabble over everything from technology, to an alleged Chinese spy balloon being shot down over American skies and China’s partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the forefront too is an increasingly belligerent North Korea, which fired an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to strike the US just hours before Kishida and Yoon held a summit in Tokyo in March.

Yoon also said he would be open for Japan to join a security arrangement he reached with Biden during a visit to Washington last month that would give his country a greater say in how America deploys its nuclear umbrella. Kishida, who has long campaigned against nuclear weapons, may proceed with caution in joining what is known as the Nuclear Consultative Group.

“Japan has its own regular extended deterrence dialogue with the United States, and for now, I don’t see any signs of Japan calling for a major change in the extended deterrence mechanism,” said Naoko Aoki, an associate political scientist at the Rand Corp. in Washington.

Curtailing China’s expanding nuclear arsenal is set to be a subject of discussion later this month when Kishida hosts a Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Hiroshima. Yoon has been invited and expected to join the Japanese premier and Biden for three-way talks on the sidelines.

Ahead of their talks, both leaders stood before an honor guard outside the presidential office in Seoul as both national anthems played. Kishida is due to meet lawmakers and business leaders on Monday before returning to Tokyo.

Ties between the neighbors began to warm earlier this year after Yoon proposed a resolution for the long-standing dispute over compensation for Japan’s use of Korean forced labor. His proposal, which involves South Korean firms contributing to a compensation fund for conscripted Korean workers, has not been well-received by the majority of the local public.

The payments were meant to avoid forcing Japanese companies to provide compensation, in line with Tokyo’s contention all such claims were settled under a 1965 agreement. Biden’s administration welcomed the move, calling it a “groundbreaking” deal.

South Korea reinstated Japan to its list of preferred trading partners in April. Later that month, Japan’s trade ministry started seeking public opinions on restoring South Korea to Tokyo’s list of preferred trading partners, in a procedural step that would eventually streamline the export processes to South Korea.

The two leaders also agreed for the dispatch of a South Korean team to inspect the wrecked Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. Japan’s plans to release treated radioactive water from the facility has caused a backlash in South Korea. – Bloomberg

Source : TheStar